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S. Brace, E. Palkopoulou, L. Dalén, A.M. Lister, R. Miller, M. Otte, M. Germonpré, S.P.E. Blockley, J.R. Stewart, and I. Barnes (2012)

Serial population extinctions in a small mammal indicate Late Pleistocene ecosystem instability

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109:20532-20536 .

The Late Pleistocene global extinction of many terrestrial mammal species has been a subject of intensive scientific study for over a century, yet the relative contributions of environmental changes and the global expansion of humans remain unresolved. A defining component of these extinctions is a bias toward large species, with the majority of small-mammal taxa apparently surviving into the present. Here, we investigate the population-level history of a key tundra-specialist small mammal, the collared lemming (Dicrostonyx torquatus), to explore whether events during the Late Pleistocene had a discernible effect beyond the large mammal fauna. Using ancient DNA techniques to sample across three sites in North-West Europe, we observe a dramatic reduction in genetic diversity in this species over the last 50,000 y. We further identify a series of extinction-recolonization events, indicating a previously unrecognized instability in Late Pleistocene small-mammal populations, which we link with climatic fluctuations. Our results reveal climate-associated, repeated regional extinctions in a keystone prey species across the Late Pleistocene, a pattern likely to have had an impact on the wider steppe-tundra community, and one that is concordant with environmental change as a major force in structuring Late Pleistocene biodiversity.
Peer Review, Impact Factor, International Redaction Board, RBINS Collection(s)
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